Pattern · Tutorial · Vintage

Tutorial: Grading up (or down) a vintage skirt pattern

As promised in yesterday’s post, here’s my tutorial for how I graded up my 1946 Advance suspender skirt pattern. Grading is a necessary evil when it comes to vintage patterns, as more often than not, the vintage patterns you find online or in antique stores are either too big or too small, because patterns back in the day were only printed in one size as opposed to the multitude of sizes our patterns have today. Luckily, grading up a skirt pattern is pretty easy to do (much easier than a bodice!)

Alright, let’s get started!

First, gather your supplies:

You will need: measuring tape, pen and/or pencil, scissors, pattern paper (I just use butcher paper from the office supply store), a ruler, and your vintage pattern.

Next, carefully take out your pattern pieces and instructions. Decide which view you are going to make, and which pattern pieces you will need. I’m using Advance 4780, and making View 2 (the suspender skirt).

Now, we’re going to carefully trace the pattern pieces onto the paper (Casey has an excellent tutorial on how to do this here!). To do this, first iron your pattern pieces very carefully. Then, working one pattern piece at a time, place one of the pattern pieces on top of the paper. Lightly trace the pattern piece, being sure to transfer all those geometric shape markings (like notches and circles) to the paper. I prefer doing this step in pencil, as it’s lighter than pen and erasable if need be.

After tracing the pattern, remove the vintage pattern piece. Label your new pattern piece with its number and size, and pay attention to the pattern markings you transfered (for example, three large circles on this pattern indicate the grainline, so I connected these and drew a straight line through them with arrows at either end).

Your pattern instructions should have a guide as to what the various perforations in the pattern mean. Also, if your pattern piece doesn’t have the seam allowance included (which some of them don’t), go ahead and add that now.

Next, it’s time to do the grading and some simple math. First, measure your waist. For the purpose of education, I will let you know that my waist is 28″. My pattern was made for a 26″ waist, however. To decide how much I need to add to each pattern piece, first subtract the pattern waist measurement from your waist measurement:

28 – 26 = 2

Next, divide this number by the number of pattern pices that you have. So

2″ / 4 pattern pieces = 1/2″

So, I need to add a 1/2″ to each pattern piece. There are two ways to do this, depending on the pattern piece:

-If the pattern piece is on a fold, add the extra to the side not on the fold.

-If the pattern piece is not on a fold (all my pattern pieces were not), then divide the amount you need to add by 2. So, 1/2″ divided by 2 is 1/4″.

Using a see-through ruler, add your amount to each piece:

Repeat the process with the rest of the pattern pieces (iron-trace-label-grade) until you have all your pattern pieces done:

Of course, you can repeat this whole process if you need to make your pattern smaller, but in reverse.

And finally, I highly recommend making a muslin mock-up of your graded pattern. I did this last night and was surprised to find that my skirt was slightly bigger than anticipated (though, this could have been due to the fabric). In any event, it’s good to make a mock-up anyways, as simply changing a pattern to your waist measurement won’t necessarily guarantee fit, and you might want to change things (like length).

Some other posts about working with vintage patterns that you may find helpful:

Happy grading!

1950s · Modern Sewing · Tutorial · Vintage

Tutorial: Refashioning modern pants into 1950s-style pedal pushers

As promised, here’s the tutorial for tutorial for how I did my red pedal pushers in my last post! Pedal pushers are such a chic and casual vintage garment, and it is so much easier to refashion an existing pair of pants into this style, than it is to start from scratch.

First, gather your supplies

For this refashion, you will need: a ruler AND hem gauge, shears, thread scissors, thread, pins, and a pair of pants that fits you (mine are a pair of Banana Republic stretch cotton sateen ones that I thrifted).

Start by trying on your pants. I recommend using a mirror for this next step, as you are going to want to find the place where the pants begin to get wide (usually this is right around the knee area, where the pants begin to taper out from a more-fitted thigh).  Mark this area with a pin. Next, go all the way down to the bottom of the pants and pinch out all the excess fullness with your hand (don’t pinch too tight! You don’t want to cut off your circulation), and measure how much extra width needs to come out. For me, this number was 4″.

Take the pants off, measure how far up from the bottom you put that pin, and turn the pants inside out. Place the pin back on the inside of the garment.

Next, use your seam ripper to rip out the hem. You also want to make sure that your seam allowances are able to lay against one another, so rip out the stitches that are causing them to lay flat.

Please ignore the pin! I don’t know why that’s there . . .

It should look like this when you’re finished:

Now, it’s time to do some math (I promise it’s easy, though!). You’re going to divide how much extra width to take out of your pants by 4. As you recall, my number was 4″, so 4/4 is 1, meaning that the new seam is going to start 1″away from the old seam. Smooth out one side of your pant leg (you can use an iron if you need to) and mark 1″ away from the side seam at the very bottom of the pants. I used tailor’s chalk for my mark, since it comes out easy.

Next, using a long ruler, you are going to draw a connecting line from the pin at the top to the mark at the bottom. It should look like a triangle/dart.

Place pins all along this line.

Repeat with the other side.

Try on the pants and test the fit. If you need to take out extra width, do so now. Don’t make them too tight, a little extra width in the knee area (though it can be annoying) is okay, as this enables you to use your legs. 😉

Once you’re satisfied with the fit on one leg, repeat the process on the other pant leg. Stitch along the lines that you marked.

After stitching, press the seam flat. Now, we’re going to remove the extra width from the seam, so that you don’t have bulkly seams. For my pants, I just measured 1/2″ away from the new seam I just sewed and cut that off, so I was left with a triangle piece:

Use your favorite seam finishing technique to finish the raw seams you now have. You can use a serger, or my favorite technique, stitching 1/4″ away from the seam allowances and then pinking the raw edges. After you’ve done that, press the seam open. You may have to remove some of the seam stitching on the pants (like I had to) if it overlaps with the seam allowance and gets in your way of pressing the seam open.

Finally, hem the pants! I liked where the original hem was, and there was already a prominent crease there, which made hemming oh-so-easy, but if you want your pants longer or shorter, now’s the time to change that.

After hemming, turn right-side-out and press.

Ta-da! Finished pedal pushers!

Holidays · Modern Sewing · Tutorial

Tutorial: DIY Quilted Coasters (plus Happy Mother’s Day!)

For my US and UK readers, Happy Mother’s Day! Unfortunately, I’m not able to celebrate with my mom today, with how busy school has been (3 more weeks! Gah, I can’t wait to be done!), but I will see her tomorrow, so I whipped up these quilted coasters to give to her (she actually does need coasters, so yay for practical gifts!). They are *so* easy to put together, so I thought I would write a little tutorial for you all. Not only are they a really quick project (I made a set of 4 in less than an hour), they also are a great way to use up your scraps, since you don’t need that much fabric. So, with that in mind, on to the tutorial!

First, gather your supplies:

Next, cut your fabric and batting. I did 4.5″ squares for the fabric and 4″ squares for the batting, but you can change these proportions depending on what size you want for your coasters. For every coaster, you will need 2 squares of fabric, and 1 square of batting.

With right sides together, pin 2 squares together. Stitch on 3 sides using a 1/4″ seam allowance, leaving one side open. Clip corners.  Press, and turn right-side-out. Use a point turner to make crisp corners, and press again.

On the unsewn end, fold the raw edges 1/4″ to the inside. Put one of the squares of batting inside (trim if necessary to get the batting to lay flat inside), getting it as snug into the corners as you can.

Pin the edge closed. Stitch 1/8″ away from the edge and all around the edges of the coaster. Clip threads. Stitch 1/4″ away from the first line of stitching. Clip threads and press.

Repeat for however many coasters you want!

corset · In-Progress · Pattern · Tutorial · Underpinnings

In-Progress: The “copy-cat” corset (plus a mini-tutorial!)

Fitting is one of my least favorite things about the sewing process and sewing is always easier when you have a pattern that you know fits. In updating my underpinnings, a new corset was on the top of the list. My corset is really starting to show its 5 years of ware with bones popping out and seams fraying. I was extremely lucky that the first corset I bought (an off-the-rack one) from Abraham’s Lady fit so well. Actually, I was more lucky that the site that I volunteer at bought a group of these corsets and I was able to try them on in person to see what size I was before buying online. So, with a corset that I have that fits, I set out to copy this corset and make a new version of it that would have non-fraying seams and bones in their proper place.

Taking a pattern off of a corset is really quite easy, and I thought I would write a little “mini tutorial” on the process in case anybody out there has a ready-made corset that fits them but needs updating.

To start with, you’ll need 4 things: pattern paper, something to write with, a ruler and/or hem gauge and your corset.

Since this is a seam-shaped corset, we’re going to individually trace each piece (in this corset, there are 6 pieces). Start by placing your corset on the butcher paper. Mark where the seam lines are and draw the top outline of the corset, like so:

Next, move to the bottom of the corset. Keeping the part you just drew in line with the corset mark the seamlines and trace the bottom. Sometimes the bottom half tends to want to bunch up, so you might have to spread it flat.

Finally, we have to connect the top marks to the bottom marks. It’s helpful to draw any curvy corset pieces by hand, and connect the straight lines with a ruler.

Continue this same process for all of your pieces. It also helps to number your pieces left to right (or right to left, whichever you prefer).

Since we’ve just drawn the corset pieces as they appear on the corset, we of course have to add seam allowance. I just added a simple 1/4″ seam allowance on my corset pieces to save both fabric and time. I used a ruler that had a handy 1/4″ marked on it for the straight pieces, and used my hem gauge to draw and connect the seam allowance on the curvy pieces.

Finally, cut out all of your pieces, pin them to your corset fabric (I’m using cotton sateen here) and cut!

If you’re making a 2-layered corset like I am, it definitely saves time to cut your pieces out on 4 thicknesses of fabric (since you’ll need 4 of each piece – 2 for each front piece, and 2 for each back piece). To do this, just fold your fabric in half and then in half again. When cutting, use lots of pins and a very good pair of scissors.

Now, to pin all of these pieces together and stitch . . .


Tutorial: Draping a Bodice, Part IV: Testing the fit and making a final pattern

Last tutorial post, guys! Today, we’re gonna make a mock-up of the toile and if all goes according to plan, you’ll have a perfectly fitted bodice that you can use and manipulate to make an infinite variety of mid 19th century bodices. So, how do we do that? Well, first we have to get the toile off of the body.

Continue reading “Tutorial: Draping a Bodice, Part IV: Testing the fit and making a final pattern”


Tutorial: Draping a Bodice, Part III: Marking period seam placement

*Click here for Part I and here for Part II.

First, a caveat: WordPress has this handy feature for bloggers in which you can view the stats for your blog, such as how many hits you’re getting and what your tops posts are. They also have a feature about what search terms people on the internet are using to be directed to your blog, and it turns out that I am getting a lot of hits under the search term “draping a bodice,” “bodice draping,” or a variant of that. With that in mind, these tutorials are designed to show how to drape a mid-19th century bodice, and not a bodice for modern sewing. Sorry if I didn’t clarify that before, but better late than never, right?

Today’s post will be short and sweet. We’re basically drawing 2 lines that mark where the period shoulder and side seam is, since it differs a bit from the natural shoulder and side seam lines.

Continue reading “Tutorial: Draping a Bodice, Part III: Marking period seam placement”


Tutorial: Draping a Bodice, Part II: armscye, side seam, and darts

*Click here for Part I.

Okay, moving right along in the toile draping process. At this point, you should have 2 pieces of fabric pinned to you, with the neckline marked, and the shoulder seam pinned.

Marking the armscye:

Now, we’re gonna mark the armscye. Get out your pen/marking implement/sharpie and mark the end of the shoulder and the armpit crease on both front and back while you smooth the muslin upwards. When you mark the armpit crease, have your drape-ee (person being draped) slightly raise her arm and get as close to the armpit as you can. I’ve made the mistake of cutting too far down, and had to fix this with some extra muslin and duct-tape. And it wasn’t pretty. You probably wanna use a pen or pencil (not sharpie) for this so that you don’t get rub-off on the chemise.

Continue reading “Tutorial: Draping a Bodice, Part II: armscye, side seam, and darts”


Tutorial: Draping a Bodice, Part I: Intro and Beginnings

Learning to drape a bodice came out of necessity while helping my dear friend, Dana, try to fit a Simplicity bodice. When it became clear that fitting this bodice would be more trouble than it was worth, I offered the suggestion of draping a bodice. Now, I had never draped a bodice before and prior to this day, had always shied away from doing so because it just seemed so hard. However, armed with the Dressmaker’s Guide and some confidence on Dana’s part, we began, after her comment of “what could it hurt?”

Well, it turns out it didn’t hurt, but at the end of the 3 hour period of draping, pinning, and numerous consultations of The Dressmaker’s Guide (highly recommend this! It has fabulius instructions and detailed drawins of the process), Dana had a fitted toile that she can now use as a base for an infinite variety of mid-19th century bodices. After seeing the lovely bodice that Dana had, Auntie B of The Sewing Academy decided that she wanted one, too, so she headed over to my place a few weeks ago to get draped. Luckily, I had my camera with me, and I took pictures during the process with the idea of writing a tutorial about how to drape a bodice and she graciously agreed to be the model for this tutorial.

Before we start, let me preface by saying that draping a bodice itself isn’t innately difficult. It can be a bit fiddly and takes a couple of hours and some patience. That being said, you definitely need somebody who is familiar with mid-19th century dress construction and knows what they’re doing. Simply having a helper who occasionally pins after diligent instructions on your part (such as a male friend or in my case, my sewing-challenged mother) will not work. I’m sure your sewing-challenged person is vary nice and has been helpful with pinning you into things. Like my mom. But for this, you really need an experienced sewing buddy.

So, to drape a bodice, you will need:

-Several yards of muslin (you can use actual muslin from the fabric store, fabric you have lying around, or even old sheets)

-A measuring tape

– A pen and/or sharpie

-Good pair of fabric scissors

-Lots of pins!

-Material to make your final toile pattern – for this you can use either more muslin or plain paper such as butcher paper or unprinted newspaper.

-A hem gauge or ruler to mark seam allowances on the final pattern. You can use a French curve in addition to this if you like, but it’s not necessary.

Cutting and Pinning the Muslin:

Make sure the person you are draping the toile for is wearing a chemise and a properly fitted corset! I cannot stress this enough. I could go on and on about proper undergarments and fit, but I won’t and will just leave it at wear your corset. Ok? Ok.

Also, before you begin make sure the person that you are draping goes to the bathroom. While they can go sometime during the whole process, it is much more awkward when they have pieces of muslin pinned to them with odd marks drawn on them, too.

So, start with your measuring tape and measure the person from the base of the neck (with their corset on! Last time I’m gonna say this 😉 ) to about 1-2″ below their waist (waist meaning the part on the side of your tummy where you have that indent). Next, go to your muslin, and rip a piece of fabric this exact length. You should have 1 fairly short ripped piece of fabric that is probably about 45″ wide, as that’s how wide most muslins are. You wanna cut this piece in half, so that it’s about 22.5″. You’ll now have 2 pieces – 1 to drape the front and one to drape the back.

Pin one piece of muslin (making sure to pin on the selvage part of the muslin so that you know you have a straight line) to the person’s corset along the center front line, making sure that the bottom of the muslin extends about 1-2″ below the waist.I just draw a mark where this is so I don’t have to guess. When you’re pinning them, pin into the corset fabric, not the busk, and try not to poke them. Unless it’s somebody you really don’t like, so then poke away. Keep pinning up the corset, and stick a few pins into the chemise, as well. A good rule of thumb for this is to stop pinning when there’s no more fabric to pin in to.

The fabric is going to bunch up at the neck, so don’t worry about this since it will be smoothed in the next step.

Continue reading “Tutorial: Draping a Bodice, Part I: Intro and Beginnings”